May 14, 2022

1. Connections and Mysteries

I’ve often argued that everything is connected, but we can’t explain how, the universe is fundamentally mysterious. To illustrate this view, and buttress this view, I’ve often pointed to the Paired Particles experiment, in which two “paired particles” are separated, yet still communicate over a vast distance, still respond to each other as if they were in close proximity. This experiment has been repeated numerous times, and confirmed numerous times, but it’s never been explained how this happens, it remains a mystery. This experiment, though it involves tiny particles, is relevant to everything in the universe (including man), because everything is made up of particles, and everything living evolved from inanimate “stuff.”

I’ve argued that the connectedness we see in the Paired Particles experiment is the fundamental fact of the universe. Primitive man grasped this fundamental fact; primitive man understood that two objects that were in close contact could still influence each other when they were separated. Frazer’s summary of primitive thought could also serve as a summary of the Paired Particles experiment: “Things which have once been in contact with each other,” Frazer wrote, “continue to act on each other at a distance after the physical contact has been severed.”

Jung’s theory of synchronicity also deals with mysterious connections, but here the connectedness begins not with physical proximity but with some sort of kindred meaning. For example, if a thunderstorm occurs when the king is assassinated, this isn’t about prior proximity, it’s about some sort of kindred meaning. Primitive man understood this sort of connectedness, too; primitive man understood that the universe was deeply connected. These connections can’t be explained by the rational mind, they’re mysterious.

Huston Smith is a contemporary scholar of religion. He died in 2016 at the age of 97. In earlier issues, I discussed Smith’s book The World’s Religions. Smith refers to the world’s religions as the “wisdom traditions.” He says that the world’s religions agree on much, they agree that, “Things are more integrated than they seem, they are better than they seem, and they are more mysterious than they seem.”

What he calls “integrated” is what I call “connected.” So the fundamental teaching of the world’s religions is similar to my philosophy — similar in its emphasis on connections and mysteries. I’ve often pointed out the link between my philosophy and quantum physics, between my philosophy and the primitive worldview, between my philosophy and occult phenomena. I’ve largely overlooked the link between my philosophy and the world’s religions.

Someone might object, “If this fundamental teaching can be traced so widely — if it can be traced to primitive man, to Jung, to physics, to the world’s religions, etc., etc. — then why do you feel called upon to repeat it? Why do you repeat what everyone already knows? And how can you call yourself an original philosopher if you’re just repeating this fundamental teaching, just repeating what all the sages have been saying for the last 25,000 years?”

This fundamental teaching contradicts the Western-scientific worldview, the dominant worldview. So this fundamental teaching is deeply troubling to the intellectual establishment, deeply revolutionary. It’s a new paradigm, though it’s an ancient teaching; it represents a new view of the universe, and it will require a re-thinking of many subjects.

The dominant Western worldview rejects action-at-a-distance, rejects occult connections. The dominant worldview has its roots in the 1600s, in the Scientific Revolution, in the work of thinkers like Newton. Newton dismissed action-at-a-distance as an absurdity:

That one body may act upon another at a distance through a vacuum without the mediation of anything else, by and through which their action and force may be conveyed from one to another, is to me so great an absurdity that, I believe, no man who has in philosophic matters a competent faculty of thinking could ever fall into it.

So for Newton, the boundaries of reality are set by our power of explanation. “If we can’t explain it, it can’t happen.” Primitive man was wiser, he didn’t presume to explain everything, he took the world as it is.

The world is connected, mysterious, magical, and the establishment will have to be dragged, kicking and screaming, to an acknowledgment of that. I’m not suggesting that everything in the “connected worldview” is true, nor am I suggesting that everything in the Western-scientific worldview is false. I’m saying that the Scientific Revolution threw out much that’s valuable, and we need to rediscover many truths that were hastily discarded. We need to build a larger synthesis, not merely reject the Scientific Revolution.

2. Pericles

I started a book by Donald Kagan called Pericles of Athens and the Birth of Democracy.

The last tyrant of Athens — Hippias, the son of Pisistratus — was driven out in 510 BC. Athenian democracy is usually said to begin in 510 BC, though there were some democratic tendencies before then. Pericles rose to a leading position in Athenian affairs around 465 BC, when he was about 30. Democracy lasted in Athens for about 200 years, and then Athens was conquered by the Macedonians.

Kagan reminds us how rare democracy is in world history. “Although in our time democracy is taken for granted, it is in fact one of the rarest, most delicate and fragile flowers in the jungle of human experience.”1 Other societies (China, India, Egypt, etc.) were “built around urban centers dominated by kings and a caste of priests.... They had strong, centralized, monarchical systems of government ruling relatively vast areas with the aid of large, tightly organized bureaucracies.”

What made Greece different? The Greeks lived in small city-states, and they had little wealth; class differences were less marked than elsewhere. Their armies also tended toward equality; their armies consisted, not of a few noblemen on horseback, but rather of “serried masses (phalanxes) of heavy infantrymen (hoplites).” These hoplites weren’t a professional army, they were “unpaid citizen-soldiers who returned to their farms after a campaign.” These citizen-soldiers had a say in questions of war and peace; they were politically involved. Kagan says that Pericles transformed Athens from a “limited democracy” to one in which “the mass of the people were fully sovereign in fact as well as theory.”

Since Greek city-states had neither bureaucracies nor standing armies nor public education nor police departments nor fire departments, “most states imposed no regular taxation,” even in wartime. A soldier was responsible for his own armor and weapons. If a ship needed to be built (for the navy), the task would be assigned to a wealthy citizen; these assignments were called “liturgies.”2

Of course, a liturgy was a kind of tax, an ad hoc tax. When Athens was healthy and vibrant, liturgies weren’t regarded as burdens. “These periodic levies,” Kagan writes, “were seen as opportunities for gaining public favor, and wealthy men often volunteered to undertake more liturgies than were required of them, vying with one another to carry them out most splendidly.”3 Kagan says that Pericles had some wealth after his father died, and he spent part of his wealth on a liturgy — he sponsored the chorus for a play by Aeschylus.4

Kagan calls Greek society “varied, dynamic, secular, and remarkably free.” Kagan says that, in this society, “there arose for the first time a speculative natural philosophy based on observation and reason, the root of modern natural science and of philosophy.”

Pericles played a leading role in Athenian politics for more than thirty years. His power depended on his moral authority and rhetorical talent, not his position. “He held no office higher than that of general (strategos), one of ten.” He “repeatedly commanded armies and navies in battle.” No organized political party supported him, and his term of office was only one year. Pericles said that a statesman needs “to know what must be done and to be able to explain it; to love one’s country and to be incorruptible.”

* * * * *

Kagan discusses the importance of athletics in ancient Greece:

Pindar, one of the greatest of Greek poets, devoted his art to commemorating [athletic] victories. Sculptors depicted the gods as young or mature athletes. All this reveals a special quality of Greek society: its powerful commitment to agon, the competition between individuals that allowed the winner to achieve excellence, fame, and heroic stature.

Kagan says that the most prestigious competition was the chariot race. A victorious athlete, like a victorious military leader, could aspire to political power.

Pericles was born into a leading Athenian family. His father was Xanthippus, “Yellow Horse.” Xanthippus was a prominent politician, and a rival of Miltiades, who had defeated the Persians at Marathon. Pericles was later a rival of Miltiades’ son, Cimon.

Pericles’ mother was the niece of Cleisthenes, who had played a key role in expelling tyrants and establishing democracy in Athens in 510 BC.

This first version of Athenian democracy was a “middle-class democracy,” a “hoplite democracy.” The poor were excluded, partly because public service was unpaid, and the poor couldn’t afford to spend their time attending assemblies and serving on juries.5 The aristocracy wielded considerable power. But despite these limits, Kagan calls this first version of Athenian democracy “the first known democracy of any kind.”6

By giving power to the people (or at least the middle class), Athenian democracy unleashed the energy of the people. “The new regime,” Kagan writes, “had the fierce and devoted support of the people.” The middle class, the hoplites, were motivated to fight for a city in which they had a stake. Kagan quotes Herodotus:

There are proofs everywhere that equality before the law is an excellent thing. As long as the Athenians were ruled by tyrants they were no better warriors than their neighbors, but once they got rid of the tyranny they became the best of all by a long shot. This shows that while they were oppressed they were unwilling cowards, like slaves working for a master, but when they became free each man was eager to achieve honor for himself.7

When Pericles was about 10, his father (Xanthippus) was ostracized — expelled from Athens for 10 years. But Xanthippus was recalled after just 3 years — Athens needed his help in repelling another Persian invasion.

Ostracism was a device to prevent coups, a way to rid the city of disgruntled politicians — politicians who had lost power, and might be plotting against the state.8 The word “ostracism” comes from ostracon, a broken piece of pottery on which you would write the name of the person you wanted to ostracize. (How many Democrats would love to write “Trump” on an ostracon!) Kagan calls these broken pieces of pottery, “the scrap paper of antiquity”; paper was then more rare and precious than pottery.

Kagan says that the education of the young Pericles was typical of education in ancient Greece — “practical and ethical rather than intellectual.” Education meant athletic training, musical training, and learning poetry, especially Homer’s poetry. All these fields, it was believed, would mold character. Music was important because “the life of man in every part has need of harmony and rhythm.”9 The Greeks believed that “education should shape an individual’s body and character to make him fit to take his place in the community.”

Pericles went beyond the usual education. Kagan mentions two teachers who had particular influence with Pericles: a music teacher named Damon, and the philosopher Anaxagoras. Anaxagoras steered Pericles toward “rationality” and “skepticism toward common religious opinion.” Anaxagoras also influenced Pericles’ oratorical style — his “lofty spirit... composed countenance [and] dignity of carriage.”10

When Pericles was a boy, the leading politicians in Athens were Cimon and Themistocles. Cimon, the son of Miltiades, was known for his charm, had many friends in Sparta, and tried to keep power in the hands of the aristocracy. Cimon “named one of his sons Lacedaemonius (“Spartan”) and at some point became Sparta’s diplomatic representative, or proxenos (proxy), in Athens.”11 Though he tried to restrict the political power of the lower class, Cimon tried to curry favor with all classes.

Wherever he went he was accompanied by young men in fine suits of clothes, which they exchanged with any needy and aged citizen they came upon. They also carried large quantities of change and slipped a few coins into the hands of poor men they encountered.... [Cimon] removed the fences from his fields so that both foreigners and citizens could help themselves to the fruit without fear; and each day he gave a dinner at his house, plain, but enough for many people.12

Cimon’s rival, Themistocles, was the hero of the recent war with Persia. Themistocles’ victory at the Battle of Salamis covered him with glory, but made the Spartans nervous. Athens was a rising power, and this concerned Sparta. Themistocles added to Sparta’s concerns by building walls around Athens. Was he preparing for war with Sparta? Themistocles challenged Sparta, “rejecting Sparta’s claim to leadership and asserting Athenian independence from and equality with the Spartans.”

Themistocles had argued that the best way to deal with the Persian hordes was to abandon Athens and take to the sea. This policy enhanced the lower class, which manned the boats. “Themistocles, therefore, had strong support among the masses and was mistrusted by the aristocracy.”13 As the lower class gravitated toward the navy, the upper class gravitated toward the cavalry, and the middle class made up the heavy infantry. So the various classes gravitated toward different branches of the armed services.

Despite Themistocles’ military glory, and despite his popularity with the masses, he was out-maneuvered by Cimon. Cimon had both personal charm and military talent; Cimon’s pro-Sparta policy seemed to be bearing fruit. Themistocles was ostracized, then charged with treason; he fled to Persia.

When Pericles was starting out in politics, Athens had considerable overseas responsibilities, not unlike the U.S. after World War II. Athens was in charge of the Delian League, which was intended to protect its members from Persia, from pirates, and from other city-states. Most members of the Delian League were islands in the Aegean Sea, or cities on the east coast of the Aegean (what is now the coast of Turkey). Many members of the Delian League had ancient ties to Athens — they were former colonies of Athens, or they had ethnic/linguistic connections to Athens.

As a young man, Pericles served in several military expeditions, and then was elected general (strategos). Kagan writes, “It appears that Pericles was elected general when he reached thirty, the minimum age for the position, and that he commanded a fleet of fifty ships on an expedition to the neighborhood of Cyprus.” In Athens at this time, military command was not only a road to political power, it was political power. Generals were elected for one-year terms, and could be re-elected any number of times. If you aspired to be a political leader, you ran for the office of strategos.

With Themistocles in Persia, Cimon became the leading figure in Athenian politics. “Victory followed victory as Cimon led expeditions that solidified the [Delian League], cleared the sea of pirates, and drove the Persians from the Aegean. His campaigns brought Athens safety, wealth, and power.”14 But it only takes one military debacle to make people forget a long series of victories (as Putin is discovering in Ukraine).

For Cimon, this debacle was a war with the island of Thasos, a large island in the northern Aegean. Thasos and Athens quarreled over control of a gold mine and trading posts on the mainland near Thasos. Cimon planted a colony of 10,000 people near Thasos, but the colony was wiped out by natives. Cimon besieged Thasos, but the Thasians resisted for two years.

With Cimon away from Athens, the field was clear for his political opponents to expatiate on his mistakes. And there was probably grumbling in the Delian League, too. “Why are we supporting an Athenian siege of Thasos? Thasos is a member of the Delian League. Are we free and independent states, or slaves of Athens? Is the Delian League a league of equal states, or is it an Athenian Empire, in which Athens gives orders, and other states must obey?”

Kagan says, “The Thasian uprising marks a turning point in the [Delian League’s] history, for it is the first occasion when its forces were used for what seem to be purely Athenian purposes.”15 The Greek word for a league of equals was symmachia (fighting together), the word for empire was arche (rule, government).

While Cimon was the leader of the aristocratic faction in Athens, Ephialtes led the democratic faction. With Cimon busy at Thasos, Ephialtes began chipping away at aristocratic power in Athens, charging several powerful aristocrats with misconduct. When Cimon returned to Athens, he too was charged with misconduct.

Pericles, Ephialtes’ deputy in the democratic faction, was chosen to prosecute Cimon. Pericles’ prosecution was gentle and dignified. Cimon was too strong and too agile for his opponents; he was acquitted of the charges against him. Pericles had made his debut in public affairs.

Meanwhile, an earthquake struck Sparta, and Sparta’s serfs (known as “helots”) had seized the opportunity to revolt. The helots had taken refuge on a mountain, and the Spartans were struggling to defeat them, so the Spartans appealed to the Athenians for help. Ephialtes urged the Athenian assembly to let Sparta struggle, while Cimon favored helping Sparta. Cimon’s arguments carried the day, and he was sent to Sparta with 4,000 hoplites.

Sparta soon became uncomfortable with the presence of 4,000 Athenians in their country. “Sparta was a closed society that normally did not allow outsiders to move about their territory freely, even as individuals.”16 According to Thucydides, the Spartans feared that the Athenians might switch sides — the Athenians might sympathize with the helots, and join them in their war against the Spartans.

So the Spartans sent the Athenians home soon after they arrived, offending the Athenians. Relations between Sparta and Athens deteriorated. Cimon’s pro-Sparta policy lay in tatters.

While Cimon was in Sparta with his 4,000 hoplites, the democratic faction in Athens had not been idle. Hoplites were heavy infantry, middle-class farmers. With 4,000 hoplites away from Athens, the lower class (thetes) could out-vote the middle class in the Athenian assembly. So the democrats seized the moment, and rallied the thetes behind their program of undermining the aristocracy.

When Cimon returned to Athens, he tried to undo these reforms. But his star was fading, his supporters drifted away, and the once-powerful Cimon was ostracized. It seemed that Ephialtes, the leader of the democratic faction, had finally triumphed.

But Ephialtes had made many enemies among the aristocracy. “Passions ran high,” Kagan writes, “and hatred for Ephialtes must have been strong and widespread among the friends of Cimon, for in the same year as Cimon’s ostracism Ephialtes was murdered in one of the very few political assassinations in the history of Athenian democracy.”17 After the murder of Ephialtes, Pericles became the leader of the democratic faction.

Next Pericles

© L. James Hammond 2022
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1. “Introduction” back
2. When I wrote about Roman history, I said,
“Citizens were required not only to pay taxes, but also to perform various tasks; these required tasks are referred to as ‘liturgies.’ Examples of liturgies are providing horses for the army, providing lodgings to soldiers, maintaining public buildings, and collecting taxes. In provincial cities, magistrates were burdened with various liturgies, so no one wanted to be a magistrate, and magistrates had to be appointed. Civic patriotism and civic service gradually gave way to ‘every man for himself.’” back
3. Ch. 2, p. 36 back
4. More precisely, Pericles sponsored “three related tragedies and an associated satyr play,” all by Aeschylus. One of these plays, Persians, still survives. A satyr play generally had a bawdy tone and a happy ending; perhaps it was intended to balance tragedies. Plays were staged at the Festival of Dionysus. Playwrights and chorus-masters competed for prizes, as our screen-writers and film-directors compete for Academy Awards. back
5. “In the first half of the fifth century,” Kagan writes, “political offices were unpaid.”(p. 19) back
6. Ch. 1, “Aristocrat” back
7. Ch. 1. I changed “willing” to “unwilling.” Apparently Herodotus uses the term isegoria to mean “equality before the law.” The literal meaning of isegoria is “equal right to address the assembly.” A related word, which I discussed in an earlier issue, is isonomia, equal law, the same law for everyone.

Does political equality (democracy) make soldiers fight harder? Herodotus says it does. Athenian success against the numerically-superior Persians suggests that it does. The success of the Ukrainians against the Russians suggests that it does. On the other hand, the Japanese and Germans were known as great soldiers before their countries became democracies. back

8. “The idea was to allow a popular politician... who was confident of majority support, to deter a coup by a hostile faction. The threat to a rival leader, it was thought, would serve as a deterrent to keep him and his faction in line.”(Ch. 1, p. 17) Kagan calls ostracism “a needed safety valve that helped avoid the explosion of domestic strife that might have destroyed the young democracy.”(p. 18)

But the Athenians may have become overly fond of ostracism, and even people with sterling reputations, like Aristides, were ostracized. Aristides was later recalled to help fight the Persians. back

9. P. 21. Kagan is quoting Plato’s Protagoras. back
10. Was Anaxagoras an early proponent of atomism? Wikipedia doesn’t mention Anaxagoras in its article on atomism, but Kagan says that Anaxagoras broke with the theory of four elements (earth, air, fire, water), and proposed instead that the universe was made up of “an infinite number of ‘seeds’... uncreated and eternal, whose combinings and separations accounted for the changing world we perceive with our senses.... The ‘seeds’ are part of a rotation, or vortex, created and controlled by ‘mind.’”

Anaxagoras is best known for his idea of mind (nous). Anaxagoras said that mind is the primary force in the universe; he seemed to think of mind as independent of gods. He described mind as “the finest of all things and the purest. [It has] the greatest power.”(p. 24) I’m reminded of Schopenhauer’s concept of will; will is also “fine,” i.e., non-material.

Hegel says that Anaxagoras “was the first to enunciate the doctrine that nous, Understanding generally, or Reason, governs the world.... The movement of the solar system takes place according to unchangeable laws. These laws are Reason, implicit in the phenomena in question.... Such a thought makes an epoch in the annals of human intelligence. Aristotle says of Anaxagoras, as the originator of the thought in question, that he appeared as a sober man among the drunken.”(Philosophy of History, Introduction, paperback edition, p. 12)

Socrates eagerly embraced the teaching of Anaxagoras, thinking it was much better than mechanical determinism. Socrates hoped that nous would arrange everything in the best possible way, but he was disappointed that Anaxagoras didn’t view it that way. Perhaps Anaxagoras viewed nous as immanent rather than superintending/arranging.

Kagan says that Socrates and Plato wanted a nous that arranged everything; they had a penchant for dictatorship, totalitarianism. Pericles, on the other hand, wanted to let the citizens “sort themselves out, with all the freedom and unpredictability that the phrase implies.”(p. 25)

The nous of Socrates and Plato is rational and moral; it creates things for a purpose. The nous of Anaxagoras, on the other hand, is within things, but not necessarily rational or moral.

Hegel, like Socrates, is impressed with the principle of nous, but not impressed with how Anaxagoras applies it: “The defect which Socrates complains of respecting Anaxagoras’ doctrine, does not concern the principle itself, but the shortcoming of the propounder in applying it to Nature in the concrete.” Is this also true of Schopenhauer’s will? Is Schopenhauer’s doctrine true in the abstract but not well applied? Have we made some progress in applying general principles? I hope that I’ve been able to apply my principle of connectedness more successfully than Anaxagoras applied his principle.

Whatever we may think of Anaxagoras’ ideas, it’s clear that he was a major thinker, and with his help, Pericles received an “extraordinary intellectual training.”(p. 25) back

11. Ch. 2, p. 33 back
12. pp. 33, 34 back
13. p. 29. Athens probably had walls in its earliest period. These walls were probably enhanced after the Persians sacked the city, then enhanced again when it seemed that Athens was on a “collision course” with Sparta. back
14. p. 33 back
15. p. 38 back
16. p. 43 back
17. Ch. 2, p. 44 back